The novel is written solely from the perspective of shared messages, in both text and email formats. There is no true dialogue, except for the text and/or email conversations that take place. In a nutshell, the main character, Anissa, accidentally hits Reply All on a group email set up for the students in her Physics class. In her reply, she admits having a crush on one of the other students in the class. From here we follow the chaos that ensues as the rest of the class begins to respond – all via email messages, which make up perhaps 90% of the book. The rest being text messages.
Anissa and her crush talk back and forth for a bit in an on-again-off-again way like you might imagine of underclass college students. Then, just when things were getting really confusing, Anissa gets an email from a Secret Admirer with an invitation to participate in a month-long game. Each day the Admirer will tell her one thing he has found out about her (hence the ‘I’m Not a Stalker’ title, which the Admirer states more times than he probably should). If he is wrong in his guess, the game ends and he goes away. If he is right, then it continues. Also in each email, the Admirer gives a clue to his identity, and Anissa has until the end of the game to solve who he is.
There are a few things that I really liked about the book, and several that I truly didn’t. Let’s start with the ‘likes’.
The concept itself is highly creative, and, as mentioned, it really does become almost an obsession. I poured through the first half of the book in just a couple of days. I really couldn’t put it down. The only problem was, the story only takes up 48% of the pages. The rest is all ‘bonus material’; stories of Anissa on two different dates with one of the characters; a novella about Brian and Becca, who are Anissa’s brother and her best friend; additional ‘behind-the-scenes’ looks at what the characters were thinking during the whole ‘Secret Admirer’ game; and a synopsis of where some of the characters ended up in life years later.
I also liked how, even with zero character development and no ‘world-building’ or ‘scene development’, the characters become relatable. Not necessarily likable, but relatable; as in, “I totally know someone like that.” Finally, some of the bonus material is absolute gold. Crawford breaks from the email or text style of the first half of the book, and truly begins to write, using several different POV styles.
What I didn’t like is, unfortunately, a much larger group. First, the novelty of the email and text conversations begins to wear off fairly soon, which left me wanting that part to end. Also, a lot of the reactions of the characters seem to be way too immature for the age that they are, and the host of side characters, all of which interact only through the group email that started the chaos, are so similar and one dimensional that I had trouble understanding them at all. Next, some of the clues that the Secret Admirer gives for Anissa to discover who he is are so surface level they can be referring to anyone. For example, one of the clues is “Laundry. I don’t like doing it.” Also, it is fairly obvious who the Admirer is, which left me shaking my head at poor Anissa when she couldn’t find out. And finally, one of the characters becomes involved in an accident right at a pivotal moment of the plot, which not only left me feeling like this part was added just to fill pages, but changed my view of Anissa, as her reaction is to make this other characters accident all about herself.
As for the bonus material? Like I said, some of it is pure gold, especially when Crawford is writing 3rd person POV. The rest of it I had to push myself to read. The final entry in the bonus material I couldn’t finish.
My overall synopsis is, though highly creative in design, the execution of the novel just didn’t work, and the organization of the various parts made the second half of the book difficult. Most of the stories in the second half are just expanded versions of things the reader already knows. Therefore, I gave the first half of the book 4 stars (TBH, I gave it 3, but I gave the author one-half bonus star for creativity for the concept and one-half bonus star for having the courage to release something this different and unique). However, I only gave the second half of the book 2.5 stars, as I either loved what I was reading, or I really didn’t. There was no middle ground. Therefore, I am averaging the two, and am giving the entire collection of stories a 3.25 rating.